December slipped in when I wasn’t looking. Last week, Thanksgiving was a cozy blur of happy times with Sam home from college, football, good food, and celebrating with family and friends. And now we’re nearing the end of another festive holiday, Hanukkah. I can’t keep up!
Before I flip my calendar page to December, I want to share with you what we were cooking with for Tasting Jerusalem in November. Pistachios! Pistachios are quite popular in Middle Eastern cooking and baking. The best baklava I ever tasted was a version with green pistachios at the Abulafia Bakery in Tel Aviv. Truly a decadent treat. Another delicious sweet that I enjoyed while in Israel was malabi, a milk-based pudding. There are several names for this luscious custard, including muhallabieh (as it’s called in Jerusalem), sutlaj or sutlach. No matter what it’s called, it’s creamy and wonderful and I can eat it by the bowlful.
When I spotted the recipe in Jerusalem, I knew I had to make it. Traditionally, malabi is flavored with rose water and topped with a drizzle of sweet syrup and pistachios. Since I had Thanksgiving flavors on my mind when I was dreaming about a dish of malabi, I came up with a variation using cranberries and maple syrup as a topping and swapped out the rose water for vanilla. I also used cream in place of water with the milk, making it rather like a rich panna cotta. The pudding here is made with milk, cream, sugar, vanilla and cornstarch and whisked together over heat until smooth and custardy (this happens quickly, so be sure to remove from heat the moment it thickens to avoid lumps).
For the topping, I stirred together fresh cranberries (such pretty little jewels!) and maple syrup over medium heat until the berries were bursting and bubbling away. Both the pudding and topping can be made ahead and chilled before layering. I spooned the pudding into wine and champagne glasses for an elegant dessert and then topped each with a smooth layer of the cranberries and a scatter of chopped pistachios.
The bright, tart flavor of the cranberries contrasts nicely with the creamy sweetness of the pudding, while the pistachios add crunchy texture. The cheery red and white colors make this a merry dessert for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, too. And with the frigid cold we’re having outside now, I don’t need any reminders that December has indeed arrived!
Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
By Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
6 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups fresh cranberries
3/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped
For the pudding, whisk the cornstarch together with 6 tablespoons of the milk until it forms a paste. In a saucepan, stir together the rest of the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla and warm it over medium heat until it begins to steam. Whisk in the milk/cornstarch paste and keep stirring until it turns to custard. I found this happened very quickly, so be ready to pull it off the heat. Pour the pudding into 6 pretty glasses or dishes. It’s nice to use clear glass so you can see the contrast in colors. Cover and place in the fridge to chill.
For the topping, stir the cranberries and maple syrup together in a saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes. The berries will start popping, so stir often to prevent sticking and mash them gently against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. When the sauce has thickened, remove from heat and chill.
Both the pudding and sauce can be made the day before. When ready to serve, divide the sauce between the 6 custards and gently smooth. Garnish each with a sprinkle of chopped pistachios and serve.